The Nature of Knowledge

After writing my last post, I want to lay out my thoughts on knowledge more.

Knowledge is this: comprehension of the world and how it works.

By the world, I mean nature and the physical laws, plus mankind and how we operate. Since we’re part of the creation, I include us in the “world.”

You can think of each individual part of the world as an item to be understood. The world is filled with individual items that, when put together, make up the whole.

Now, most of what is considered “intelligence” today is the ability to add and subtract such items in our heads. For instance, if you enter an essay competition at school, you’ll be tasked with comparing this idea to that idea. It wont be a question of what you think: it will be a question of your ability to add and subtract what other men have thought. Your essay will be a comparative analysis of other men’s ideas.

Now, I’m going to introduce two concepts: seers and calculators.

The seer is a man that can see the items of the world clearly. As such, he has a clear picture of the world: he has knowledge.

The calculator has a mind strong for adding and subtracting items that have become ideas. An idea is a mental conceptualization of an item. As such, one may be a calculator without being a seer.

For the most part, there is little market for seers today. As noted above, calculating power is considered intelligence.

The problem with calculators is that they can’t tell if their ideas are true or not. They tend to pick them up from an authoritative source, like a professor. They then go on their merry way adding and subtracting such ideas as are considered authoritative without ever knowing for themselves if they are true or not. We saw a good example of this with Brexit a few weeks ago. Many intelligent people were disheartened and intimidated by the vote. They honestly felt the world had taken a step towards The End because of Brexit. This is the natural consequence of their false ideas. But they don’t know they are false. Having been inculcated from their youth, and not being seers, they don’t actually know what ideas about life are true or false. As such, they believe their authorities implicitly. And their authorities told them Brexit was the end of the world.

Seers, on the other hand, see the items themselves and make ideas from them themselves. As such, they are independent minds. This is not a point for ego: it’s simply a fact. Seers have average calculating power, and as such tend to avoid trials of calculating strength. A good example of a seer is Reagan. He could see clearly what had to be done and he did it. He was not a great debater and not an intellectual in the modern sense. He wasn’t a calculator. But knowing the world better than anyone else of his era, he knew what had to be done and did it. Thus he restarted our economy and ended the Cold War, the two biggest issues of his time. But watching him in debates or in discussions, you could see he was uncomfortable around the calculators: he knew he couldn’t match them for calculating power. As such, he tended to avoid them.

Another pair of examples are James Madison and George Washington.

Madison was the nerd of the founding fathers. He was a very high powered calculator, but a poor seer. For a good decade he followed Washington’s thinking. This is because Washington was a very practical, clear sighted man. He was a seer. Madison was not, and as such he needed someone to give him the ideas he was going to process. For a while this was Washington. Afterwards it was Jefferson. This is why Madison’s thinking went through such a violent change during Washington’s second term: he switched mental horses. He stopped thinking of the government as a practical measure to aid the people, as Washington thought. Instead, he picked up the anti-authority thinking of Jefferson, and went about trying down the government he was so helpful in setting up. Thus, in the end, Madison and Washington ended up enemies when they started as friends.

Now, some men, from time to time, are both seers and calculators. As such, they can see the items of the world for themselves and add and subtract items. This gives them an exponential increase in knowledge, because they can both see what is, and, by adding and subtracting, build knowledge through logical deduction. Thus they gain knowledge faster than they learn: every item they learn about, which they do every day, gets applied to what they already know. As such, lines are drawn, and they end up frequently gaining two items of knowledge for every one item of learning.

Men of this type are the great men of history. They aren’t dependent on others either to see the items of the world or to process them. They profit, like everyone else, from the learning of others. But the mainstay, the foundation, of their thinking is their own minds.

A good example of this is Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany. He managed, through diplomacy and carefully orchestrated wars, to unite Germany into one nation. It had been a divided and largely inconsequential group of small countries before his actions. Afterwards, it was the strongest power in central Europe. Bismarck could do this, because he possessed both the ability to see the items of the world, and the ability to add and subtract them from each other. As such, his knowledge of men and affairs, of nations, diplomacy and war, were greater than anyone else at his time. This mental superiority gave him the power he needed to succeed.

There are times in history when a man possesses only one ability or the other, and still does great things. Washington is a good example of this. But most often, the great man is one that can do both. He is a very rare bird indeed. The combination comes into national renown once every few generations, typically.

To recap:

Knowledge is the conversion of the world’s items into ideas.

There are men that can see the items and conceptualize them: they are seers.

There are men that can add and subtract them, drawing inferences from them: they are calculators.

Finally, there’s a very rare breed of man that can do both: he’s the great man of history.